Most high school health classes skip myriad topics, so period blood clots were probably nowhere to be found on your teacher’s lesson plan. The mystery surrounding this phenomenon can make those small, dark clumps of blood understandably unsettling and the fact that they usually pop up on the crampiest days of a period cycle doesn’t help.
Fear not. Menstrual clots are a totally normal and surprisingly common experience for many menstruating women.
Generally speaking, they’re no cause for alarm – but understanding the “why” behind the appearance of the strange blobs that appear while you're bleeding can certainly help alleviate anxiety.
What are Menstrual Blood Clots?
The body typically loses between 4 and 12 teaspoons of menstrual blood per cycle, but this varies greatly depending on innumerable external factors.
You’ve probably noticed differences in the color and heaviness of bleeding during your flow; the darkest and thickest days often appear during the middle of your cycle. Sometimes, especially for women who have particularly heavy periods, this heavy bleeding results in small, dark, goopy and weird clots of menstrual blood.
As a general rule, the darker the blood, the longer it’s been inside the uterus and by extension, the longer it has taken to exit the body.
According to Healthline, your body produces anticoagulants, which typically prevent period clots and improve ease of blood flow. When flow is especially heavy and blood is taking longer than usual to leave the uterus, however, clotting tends to occur.
Basically, if the blood is accumulating faster than your body can expel it, your body misses its anticoagulation window, leaving you with a jelly-like clump of blood to contend with.
Every woman’s flow is different, and the heaviness of bleeding can change depending on hormones, age, diet, and other uncontrollable factors.
Interestingly, clots may be more common during the first and final menstrual years, a time known as perimenopause. Puberty is often marked by particularly heavy bleeding, and perimenopausal women may also notice this phenomenon as their periods of ovulation and menstruation begin to occur with more irregularity.
What causes Blood Clots?
Experts have plenty of intel on the body’s production of blood clots, but their origins remain something of a scientific debate.
Clots may formulate in either cavity, uterus or vagina, and it’s not entirely clear what proteins are kicking clotting behavior into action.
Changes in blood flow could be attributed to any of the following factors
- The size of your uterus
- The ability of your uterine muscle to contract
- The diameter of your cervical canal
- The presence of various types of proteins
Some of these factors are out of your control, so the presence of discolored or especially large blood clots does not mean you should rush to the pharmacy or change your diet; instead, set up an appointment with your OB/GYN. Your doctor may take a blood sample to check for anemia, recommend an ultrasound of your pelvis, or prescribe hormonal medication to help regulate heavy menstrual periods.
Doctors will frequently agree that menstrual blood clotting is a perfectly normal side-effect of heavier periods.
Should I be worried about a period blood clot?
If you notice that your clots are larger than the size of a quarter. If the clots are not the typical dark red color or size that you’re used to seeing, it’s worth checking with your doctor.
This type of behavior may be a symptom of heavy menstrual bleeding or uterine fibroids. Discolored clots may be a sign of an undetected miscarriage; if you’re trying to get pregnant and notice any kind of change in your period flow, visit your doctor for more thorough diagnosis, testing and treatment.
Blood clots are also common among women with polycystic ovary syndrome, which disrupts the body’s hormonal balances and can lead to particularly heavy periods.
If you do choose to consult your doctor about the normalcy of your flow, be prepared to answer questions about:
- Your family history with heavy bleeding
- How much heavy bleeding impacts your quality of life
- How many tampons or pads or both you use in a hour of your heaviest part of your cycle
- How many tampons or pads you go through in total on a typical cycle
Bottom line, as strange as this jelly-like substance can be, you don’t need to worry unless you notice clots that are abnormal in size or color.
If you find the sight of blood clots alarming, or you’re concerned about tracking the heaviness of your cycle, stay away from tampons and pads. These types of products absorb regular menstrual bleeding, but not blood clots or heavier flows.
Collection menstrual products, such as Flex, allow period blood to flow naturally. A menstrual disc can make it much easier for you to notice details like color, heaviness, and occurrence of blood clots.
It also never hurts to start tracking your personal flow. Blood clots aren’t necessarily reason to worry, but they’re a great excuse to start getting to know your body even better.
As gunky and gross as these clots may appear, keeping track of patterns in your flow can be hugely important to recognizing changes in your body. Otherwise, blood clots are generally just a part of the menstrual process, and way more normal than high school health class might indicate.
So the next time you notice a glob of blood on the crampiest day of your period, no need to panic: just clock it, clean up, pop some Midol, and enjoy your day!